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by Tim Beissmann

Mitsubishi’s entire passenger vehicle range in Australia will be replaced by all-new models before the end of 2014.

In January, Mitsubishi Motors Corporation (MMC) outlined its plan to introduce eight plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles (PH/EV) to its global range by 2015.

Mitsubishi Motors Australia Ltd (MMAL) is committed to introducing all eight PH/EV models, as well as expanding its range so that each new model is available with a petrol, diesel or lithium-ion-powered PH/EV powertrain in the medium term.

MMC is yet to reveal the specific breakdown of exactly what vehicles will be wholly electric and which will be range-extended plug-ins, but that will be determined by the requirements of the individual market segments and the suitability of the technology. For example, the smaller city vehicles that cover shorter distances per day will be EVs, while the larger, longer-distance travellers like the Pajero will be plug-in hybrids.

Mitsubishi Motors Australia customer and brand management vice president, Paul Unerkov, admitted the increased focus on PH/EVs was driven by global CO2 regulations, and said Australia’s adoption of a carbon target for new cars would influence the rate at which the new vehicles were introduced locally.

“A CO2 target will drive how quickly that happens in Australia,” Mr Unerkov said.

Regardless of targets, Mr Unerkov confirmed Australia would be among the first markets to receive new products when they were released.

“We may not be the first but we will be right up there in the rollout,” he said.

The introduction of the publically available i-MiEV in the third quarter will be the most significant change to the range in 2011, with only minor updates planned for some other vehicles.

The key changes are set to begin around the middle of 2012 with the launch of the production version of the Global Small, which was unveiled in concept form at the Geneva Motor Show earlier this month.

Production of the Global Small is on track to commence at a brand new plant in Thailand in the first quarter of 2012.

It will initially be available as a five-door hatch with a 1.0- and 1.2-litre petrol engine. Australian engines and specifications are still to be finalised.

An electric version will be available within 12 months of the Global Small’s launch. A diesel variant and a sedan model will also be developed in the short- to medium-term, with Mitsubishi Australia expected to take on all variants.

Despite the small-capacity engines, don’t expect the Global Small to come with a sub-$13,000 price tag like many other super-light cars currently available in Australia.

Mr Unerkov admitted it “might be hard” to get the pricing down to that level given the standard equipment expected in today’s new cars.

He also revealed the decision-makers at MMC headquarters in Japan were yet to lock in a production name for the Global Small. It is not yet known whether the name will be a global one or one that is region-specific.

An all-new version of the Outlander will be next to join the refreshed Mitsubishi range, with that vehicle due in Australia late next year.

Mr Unerkov admitted a diesel-powered Outlander was one of the local brand’s biggest product holes, and he said MMAL was intent on plugging that hole. Mitsubishi is yet to finalise whether a diesel variant of the current Outlander will be introduced or if customers will have to wait for the launch of the third-generation vehicle in 2012.

A new Lancer will not arrive in Australia until 2013, and a new Pajero will be one of the last models replaced in 2014.

Mr Unerkov said there was still no confirmation one way or the other from MMC on the future of the Lancer Evolution.

“The decision hasn’t been made on the next Lancer yet, so they’re not in a position to say it [the Evo] is locked in.”

“The first step will be locking Lancer in, then they say ‘Okay, what can we do with Evo?’”

The Lancer is currently Mitsubishi’s best selling vehicle in Australia. In the first two months of 2011, Mitsubishi sold 3231 Lancers, which is around 10 percent fewer than in the same period in 2010.

Overall, Mitsubishi’s 2011 sales are up 6.5 percent compared with the beginning of last year, thanks largely to the popularity of the ASX compact SUV, which is averaging more than 450 sales per month.